• by ICON Medical Communications team

The third annual US Medical Affairs Professionals Society (MAPS) meeting in New Orleans was the largest known gathering of medical affairs professionals in the United States to date. As a MAPS Partner Circle member, ICON sent 11 medical affairs solutions providers from our Access Commercialisation & Communications team to learn from, educate, network and engage with other medical affairs professionals throughout the 3-day event.

With the playful theme of Mardi Gras in full effect, MAPS 2019 experienced record-breaking attendance with more than 350 participants representing every function in Medical Affairs - sharing the latest best practices and discussing the challenges facing organizations today and how to evolve to overcome these challenges.

Key themes that emerged from MAPS 2019:

  • The growing importance of the need to understand the payer and patient perspectives and to incorporate these perspectives as early as possible into medical affairs’ strategies;
  • The need for proficiency with and utilization of new digital technology solutions, which are becoming essential to improving the effectiveness of medical affairs professionals; and
  • The gratifying new reality that medical affairs as a whole is growing in importance within healthcare organizations—with medical affairs teams now often considered to be as essential for success as commercial marketing and research and development.

A Shift in Focus to Product Value

Historically, thought leaders, prominent physicians, and healthcare professionals in specific disease disciplines have been the main influencers in healthcare. With the rising importance of evidence-based medicine, the focus is now shifting to reveal the increasing roles of the payer and patient in healthcare decision-making.

We are moving beyond the approach of “the product with lowest cost wins” to that of “the product with better outcomes wins” in the payer environment. Now, more than ever, it is critical that medical affairs teams ensure that product effectiveness data (eg, real-world evidence [RWE]) are successfully communicated in addition to efficacy data (eg, results data from randomized controlled trials).

Product effectiveness is becoming the new valuation gold standard.

As the importance of RWE increases, the need to communicate those data will rise accordingly, and stringent transparency and compliance guidelines will likely take effect in a similar fashion to those governing clinical trial data. Medical affairs teams should look to incorporate RWE into data generation plans early in product development. A deep understanding of the criteria used by groups like the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER) in the United States and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in the United Kingdom to define product value is advantageous and will become increasingly important.

The focus on product value is founded on the need to ensure that patients are receiving optimal care. “Patient centricity” has always been the mantra of healthcare organizations, and now, “patients as stakeholders” is part of a new paradigm that may dramatically alter the ways that medical affairs teams interact with and provide information to audiences, including patients. The patient is emerging as a direct customer for medical affairs interactions and communications.

Engaging patients in 2-way interactions to understand the patient experience, learn what the patient needs, and understand their level of knowledge and preferred channels for communication are paramount to remaining relevant in this evolving landscape. Even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is paying closer attention to the voice of the patient—adjusting its decisions based on the feedback of patients and patient advocacy groups in certain circumstances.

Emerging Digital Solutions

In this digital age, medical affairs teams are competing with internet-based databases and resources as the sources for disease and therapeutic information for the healthcare industry. The rise of digital technology solutions has put information just a click away and in the palm of the hand of those seeking it. New partnerships are emerging between the pharma/biotech/device industry and technology such giants as Google, IBM, and Amazon.

With patients as stakeholders and with the prediction that millennials will comprise 70% of practicing physicians by 2025, medical teams will need to pursue and implement digital solutions and novel stakeholder engagement techniques to maintain their status as the owners and communicators of medical information. Embracing new technologies will likewise require an evolution in the medical-legal-regulatory compliance process within pharmaceutical, biotechnology, or device companies to meet the expected response time of the requestor.

Increasing pricing pressures and other external influences on the pharma/biotech/device industry will likely require medical affairs teams to seek new strategies to enable them to do more with fewer resources and smaller budgets - and this is where enhanced capabilities in the technology realm may be the most welcomed. Technologies can assist the medical affairs community with the acquisition of insights. It is the robust thinking around these insights that will continue to provide the value around the information, transforming an insight into an innovation. 

Medical Affairs: From Support Function to Strategic Partner

The role of medical affairs within healthcare organizations is expanding to the extent that it is now on par with commercial marketing and research and development in many organizations, and for those who have not witnessed this level of elevation yet, it is likely on the horizon. As medical affairs professionals find themselves wearing many different hats to ensure successful go-to-market strategies and communication platforms to address the needs of various stakeholders, it is imperative for the medical affairs teams to become masters at collaboration and cross-functional partnership within the organization and throughout the healthcare community as a whole.

Medical affairs teams offer unmatched expertise in data generation, data dissemination, external stakeholder engagement, and organizational support to establish key components of a successful launch plan. The strategic planning that drives all of these endeavors is founded upon identifying ways to communicate value in a compliant manner to a multitude of different audiences in meaningful, effective ways that resonate with each stakeholder.

The collection of presentations and workshops highlighted at this year’s MAPS meeting has expertly demonstrated that this is indeed a thrilling time to be a medical affairs professional. It will be exciting to see how the landscape continues to evolve as we continue to identify new solutions for current and future challenges to drive the business of human health forward. 

The next US Medical Affairs Professionals Society (MAPS) meeting is scheduled for March 8-11, 2020, taking place in Miami Beach, Florida.